What you surround yourself with matters.  Who you surround yourself with is important.  As humans, we are expected to grow physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.  Just like seeds that need good soil, we need good environments to develop and thrive.  

Seeds need soil.  Jesus loves soil. 

Jesus spent more time talking about soil than seed which means a healthy environment, surroundings and culture is more important than you think.  

The “soil of our environment” is powerful.  What we are surrounded by is constantly giving off sustenance for us to consume.  We might call them “cues” that we pick up and apply to our lives.  These cues reflect and even establish our values, priorities, ideas, language, and perspectives.  Your soil, or in other words, your environment is made up of these 5 ingredients: 

Who you are:  Recognition

What you see:  Observation

What you hear:  Conversation

How you do:  Contribution

How you relate:  Cooperation

Don’t underestimate the power of your surroundings: your “soil” is always teaching, always communicating, always driving decisions, and always driving actions and behaviors.   You are influenced by your environment whether negatively or positively.  Here are 6 ways to cultivate a flourishing, healthy environment.

1. GO DEEP

We live in a culture of shallow relationships.  Being connected today means having Twitter followers, Facebook friends, Reality TV romances, and Netflix drama, but these faux friendships aren’t deep.  Most of these relationships are shallow, hollow and superficial. In reality, we don’t have authentic relationships.  Jesus modeled deep friendship by being vulnerable, honest, loving, humble, and servant-hearted.  Acts 2:42 says the disciples “devoted themselves to fellowship.” To go deep, we have to do the same.  Devote yourself to a handful of people, and go as deep as you can with them.

2. GIVE BACK

Acceptance is more palatable to culture than resistance; therefore, we choose wisely to accept people at where they are and influence people to where they could be in Jesus.  We choose to resist a culture of self-indulgence so we can live in self-denial, modeling and embodying the essence of Christ which is to serve others and give back to our community.  The Bible exhorts us: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works ” (Hebrews 10:24).  This is the kind of soil that I can grow in. 

 3.  LIVE UNRESERVEDLY

Being defensive and living a closed life is easy in a broken world.  Our past experiences have conditioned us to be guarded and closed off to others.  If you live a closed life, you will live a lonely life because people will look elsewhere. So take a risk and trust.  An open life means starting honest dialogues; holding palatable conversations about issues that matter; listening and celebrating the stories of others; and accepting others at where they are and pacing with others when they are slow to change.

Living unreservedly demands a high level of trust in your surroundings, so be the first to trust and be the last to resist.

Choosing to be closed off in good soil is detrimental. You are hurting yourself  and depriving those around you. 

4. ENGAGE IN HONEST CONFLICT  

Conflict is rooted in a failure to understand the intentions of others.  So often when a conflict arises, rather than trying to “gain understanding”, we try to tell them “what’s going on.”  Stephen Covey speaks about this in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he says, “seek first to understand then to be understood.” 

Guard yourself against assuming others because when you assume you cease to draw close; you “already know” their thoughts and motives and remain at a distance.  If you’re going to assume something, assume the best about that person and not the worst!  When you believe the best about someone, you can’t help but draw closer to them.

RELATED: 3 Powerful Lessons I Learned About Building Authenticity in My Community 

5. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS  

Someone has to step up and take responsibility for the health and well-being of your environment.  If your friends are unhealthy, your romances are dysfunctional, your spiritual life is lacking, or your emotions are running high in your “soil”, you are part of the problem. When you realize you didn’t step up, you didn’t fight for the truth, you didn’t stop the conversation, you were part of the problem- But you are also part of the solution.  When you stand up and say: “My office, friendships, church, and neighborhood aren’t healthy, and I am going to do something about it”, that’s when real change begins to take place.  Take responsibility to be the solution, and stop being part of the problem.  Even if it’s not “your fault”, it is still your responsibility. The absence of tough decisions in your culture means you allow those things to remain, so make the difficult choices and initiate the challenging conversations.  

 6. EMBRACE YOUR VALUES

Here’s a question:  What do you want to be surrounded by?  Write down the words:  honesty, acceptance,  and generosity. Finally, once you have identified these words ask yourself if your community is reflecting these attributes. Lean into and lead towards these attributes.  If you choose to start living these words, they will “take root” in your life and be visible to others around you.  Every culture has “unwanted elements” underneath the surface; in other words, soil has the potential for “weeds” to grow.  Your choice is to kill the weeds, enabling the flowers and fruit that you want to grow to receive nutrients.  Discover the flaws and praise the good in your community.  Give energy and attention to the core values that should be affirmed and the aspiring values you want to see around you.  Discover what you want to become and simply do what you say.  Be honest about your “soil” and confront what is necessary to change. Now watch your community flourish. 

Alan Pastian works is a Pastor at River Valley Church in Minneapolis, MN, where he lives with his wife, Heidi, and is father to Anja and Magnus, he thinks coffee and community are inseparable, he believes a picture speaks a thousand words, he celebrates films as modern-day parables and is committed to collecting experiences more than collecting things.